The Thread of Seventy Sevens
I just realized another significant insight into this core concept of forgiveness that I am beginning to see is far more central to living as a true Christian than most are willing to believe. But these insights are also revealing the falsity of many of the methods and counsel that admired leaders in the church are promoting instead of leading people to experience real forgiveness.
It was pointed out in the devotional book Snapshots of God that very early on in the history of this world the idea of blood vengeance was taking deep root in the psyche of humanity. After killing Abel and then living in constant fear of someone taking revenge against him for that heartless murder, Cain was assured that if anyone killed him they would suffer seven times as much in retribution. A few verses later we find this number going exponential as Lamech declares that any vengeance against him would be returned seventy times worse than for Cain.
This way of evening the score continues yet to this day in certain parts of the world. It is seen as the responsibility of member of the aggrieved party to bring about “peace” by avenging the rights of the wounded person upon the perpetrator (and family). That was how wrongs were righted, how atonement was made, how forgiveness was achieved. (Snapshots of God p. 80)
All of this thinking revolves around the very same foundational principle that we still live under today in this world, the principle that underlies our whole justice system, the assumption that there is some imaginary scale that must be kept in balance. So if someone creates a debt against us in any way, i.e. by robbing us of some part of our sense of value, it is then determined that the only way to restore 'balance' is for society or the offended party to inflict at least the same amount of damage if not much more against the offender so as to 'secure justice'.
This whole idea of balancing the score is viewed as a protection against anarchy. The whole concept is totally based on producing enough fear so as to keep people from taking advantage of others or exploiting them in some way. Fear of retribution is the thing our fallen nature relies on the most as our best defense against others sinning against us. Without this shield of threat of retaliation we are almost certain that we will be vulnerable to being exploited, hurt or even killed at any moment. This fear of vengeance becomes the god we rely on to protect us from other sinners.
Because this fundamental threat seems to work for us and society, those who have a heightened sense of fear because they have offended others or have committed crimes themselves desire an even greater level of protection than simply threats to only even the score or balance the scales. If a little fear provides a sense of security for the average person, then it is assumed that one who is already caught up in a feud must require a much greater level of intimidation against anyone who might desire to use this principle to seek vengeance against them. So the ante is increased seven times. But when that does not seem enough to feel safe it is increased even more by seventy times that much.
What does all this reveal about what is going on deep inside our hearts? It exposes our intense reliance on fear and force as the only reliable power sufficient to be trusted to preserve what life we already are trying to hang onto. Because we will not trust and fully submit to God and live in harmony with His principles, the only alternative is to immerse ourselves in the alternative system that is based on fear rather than forgiveness. This may seem very logical and even sound spiritual, but it is still a counterfeit.
I am starting to see that this is a deep thread that runs all throughout history. Cain starts out with a fear factor of seven times what might be viewed as fair – a one for one exchange. This is seven times (the number considered perfect or complete) the level of what is seen in the instructions of an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. But the deeper humanity sinks into violence against one another the greater the desire for ever increasing levels of fear needed to ward off anyone seeking retaliation against us. So the multiplier itself is increased tenfold so that it now comes out as seventy sevens. (Most translations render Lamech's statement as only 77, but the original can also be interpreted as seventy sevens.)
Interestingly this shows up again in a prophecy in the book of Daniel. But this time we begin to see the reversal process that God is implementing to counter this principle of revenge and vengeance that is so pervasive in our thinking. Daniel is told that this number of seventy-sevens is now going to be connected to the coming Messiah, the one who will reverse the curse and who will reveal the true principle of heaven's kingdom that can counteract our fear of vengeance.
At first this number seems only associated with a time period. But the time period itself is linked to events directly connected to offenses in the minds of God's called out people the Israelites. This time period begins with an event where God intervenes to counter the damage created by the sins and apostasy of His chosen people that has gotten them into deep trouble and even captivity. God is seeking throughout history to unveil the principles that will counteract the principles that humanity has come to depend on so fully, this principle of fear, force and revenge. God's antidote to all of this is to bring into our lives the great principle of forgiveness and healing and restoration, restoring us back into the role He desires for us to fulfill through humble dependency on Him rather than depending on the fear factor.
So the prophetic seventy weeks begins with the releasing of the captive Israelites from the bondage of Babylon as the starting point for the timeline that defines how long they are given to repent and embrace His way of living rather than their own ways. The angel tells Daniel that this time period will be defined by the same number that has been connected to the whole concept of vengeance, retaliation, force and revenge. But this time the number is to be linked to a new concept, a different way of relating to offenses and sins. This time the number involves grace, forgiveness and a time of probation in which offenders are given more opportunity to embrace a radically different way of relating to their Creator and to each other.
These numbers show up very interestingly again in the middle of a discussion about offenses and forgiveness between the Messiah who came to finalize this offer with His chosen people and His disciples who were still living under the alternate system of thinking. Peter was one person who was very familiar with the principle of revenge and the desire for retaliation of personal grievances. But after hanging around with Jesus for several years he was beginning to perceive that maybe there was a different option for living, but he still was very vague on what that looked like. But taking a stab in the dark during a detailed discourse by Jesus about how to deal with offenses the right way, Peter offered up what he assumed was a generous magnanimity by suggesting that maybe seven times to forgive might be the right direction to go.
This sevenfold level of forgiveness is a parallel to the sevenfold vengeance that first began with Cain. It was certainly a move in the right direction, but as Jesus quickly pointed out humanity was far past the level of the simple seven at that point. The principle of vengeance from man's perspective is so deeply ingrained in our psyche and woven into the fabric of what we assume is justice that a far more radical response is needed to address this problem. Cain had upped the number to seven but Lamech with his two wives and his fear of retribution for someone he had murdered himself during an attack on him had increased that number by seventy times. It was now time for Jesus to make clear that salvation was going to address the much larger number if it was to be effective in reversing the level of the curse in our thinking regarding this issue of vengeance, revenge and offenses.
What this is outlining is the deep issue of how we are going to choose to relate to offenses in our lives. Early on sinners chose to relate to offenses by seeking revenge and using threats of multiplied revenge as their primary defense to protect themselves from the increasing dangers created by this very principle. But to reverse the curse of sin that is rooted in fear and force and deception, God is introducing a new (to us) principle that is exactly opposite of what comes natural to the fallen sinful heart. Jesus clearly spells out that to the same level we have depended on desires for vengeance to protect us, we must now let go of our dependency on that as our protection in order to be released from the hold that all of this false system has over our lives.
Trusting in the fear factor as our defense is to embrace the principles of the kingdom of Satan. We are very familiar with these principles whether we can articulate them clearly or not. The kingdoms of this world are all guided by the false principles that we assume are justice. But the justice that comes from heaven is radically different in nature and function than what we think of as justice. That is why many who catch a glimpse of what constitutes heaven's justice turn away from it in disgust because they desire a more violent system of retribution than what God intends to carry out. This thinking and disdain for the truth about heaven's justice system has led most to embrace a theory of religion and a view of God's character that reflects more our principles of vengeance. We want God to do things our way, to avenge us against our enemies, not to embrace them and forgive them and allow them to escape punishment. We want to see them suffer like we have suffered and anything short of this is scandalous and we turn away from it to embrace concepts of religion that better suit our cravings for revenge.
This is why it is so necessary for one to be born all over again if they ever hope to enter into the true kingdom of heaven. The thinking and logic of the true system from heaven is so out of touch with how our minds operate that we cannot assimilate it into our current way of reasoning. Only by scrapping everything we have believed altogether and allowing God to birth us into a completely new paradigm of logic can we ever hope to understand and function in reliance on the principles that govern the rest of God's family in the unfallen universe.
We are now witnessing the fact that even the greatest revelation of truth about God's principles, the life and death of His own Son who perfectly revealed His true character has now become so distorted by our false interpretations of what He was all about that again God has to come to show the world the real truth about the Father. But this time He is coming through the lives and hearts of people who are willing enough to humble themselves, discard their preconceptions about Him and allow Him full access to their lives so that He can again demonstrate before an unbelieving, hostile world that the principles of God's kingdom really do work to replace the principles of fear and revenge.
God knows that we are so addicted to our desires for and belief in vengeance and that our concepts of justice are so skewed that it is not safe for us to trust in any of our natural instincts in this regard. This side of heaven it is simply best to leave the whole issue of payback to Him altogether. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
Jesus words to His disciples reveal that it is necessary to take this principle the full way to the extent that we have embraced the false system that is based on fear. It is not enough to just forgive, to forgo taking vengeance into our own hands once or even seven times. What Jesus is saying here is that to the same level that we have been trusting in vengeance as our means of protection, we now must trust in God alone and release all of our desires for revenge to Him and embrace only His ways of relating to our enemies and those who have wounded and offended us.
We will either rely on fear, intimidation, force and will engage in taking things into our own hands one way or another; or we must be willing to lay down our weapons and threats and completely rely on God to be our defender. What frightens us much of the time is that we know that there are times when God allows people to hurt those under His protection while seeming to stand back indifferently. We don't like that kind of vulnerability and we want to be able to control how God protects us as well as believing in His power to protect us.
But this too is a means of avoiding complete dependency on God. If we want to live in dependent relationship on God but still want to be able to make the final decisions as to what that should look like in our lives, then we are still not fully submitted in trust that He has our best interest in mind in all of His dealings with us. We are still not willing to believe that even if He allows us to suffer, even to be killed, that His heart is still worthy of our implicit trust even when we can't make sense out of it all. To do this means that we will always forgo vengeance, but beyond that we will emulate the example of Jesus and freely forgive without ever holding onto any offenses.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 NIV)
The core issue that every person must face and decide on is whether they can trust their life with an unseen God who claims that He will ultimately bring about what is best in spite of what circumstances may insinuate about Him and in spite of all the negative rumors and beliefs circulating about what He is like. He has provided enough evidence of His trustworthiness in His Word and through experiences in life to give us a foundation upon which to base our faith in Him. But there are always going to be reasons to doubt these truths about Him and we will always have to make a choice to trust Him sometimes in spite of apparently conflicting evidence according to our way of reasoning.
We can either continue to trust in the principle of vengeance, depending on fear, intimidation or even isolation as the methods we will trust to protect us from pain and suffering. But we should not lie to ourselves by thinking that this is a legitimate option we can exercise while claiming to belong to God's family. These are not God's principles but are the common principles used in this world that seem to make more sense to us than God's ways. Sure we can find abundant support and reinforcement for this way of relating to offenses, but we should not fool ourselves into believing that this is from God.
Jesus spelled out clearly the outline of heaven's ways of relating to offenses, and demonstrated it in His own life. The early New Testament church experienced that truth so profoundly that it electrified all those who really took hold of it. The power of God became so alive in the lives of those early believers who embraced these principles based on love and forgiveness that thousands were drawn to join them in short order. But since that time religion has increasingly suffocated the light of truth that so radicalized those early believers and now we find ourselves in a condition almost identical to what the Jews were in during the time of Christ. We are now resistant to believing in the radical truths that Jesus put forward and have sought to water them down to make them more palatable with our cravings for revenge. Radical forgiveness has morphed into an ineffective shell of its original substance and few even understand the real truth of what it involves. We still want to rely on our false god of fear to protect us while desiring to be viewed as loyal citizens of God's kingdom at the same time. But from heaven's view this is impossible and in the end such thinking will finally be seen as high treason.
If we want to be true followers of Jesus we absolutely cannot avoid obeying His words and instructions. Jesus said we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus' demonstration of total forgiveness, non-violence and complete lack of any desire for vengeance that was seen at the cross is what He was referring to when He said we must take up our cross. We must be filled with that same spirit that is free of all desire for vengeance against those who mistreat and abuse us if we are to live free of offense in the kingdom where Jesus is the king. All those who claim to live in that kingdom must allow themselves to be infused with the very same spirit and thinking and disposition that is in the King Himself. This is the only way that perfect harmony and love and peace can exist in God's universe. All other alternatives are doomed to fail and will only lead to pain, destruction and finally permanent death.